For any given piece of music, I seem to encounter Sarah Connolly’s performance of it only after I have someone else’s in my head, and I end up comparing the two whether I want to or not. I’m going to see if I can avoid it here. Not because any comparison I can think of would be unflattering to Connolly (it wouldn’t) but because that kind of thing can get annoying after a while.
This is one of those recital recordings that ends far too soon. When I had heard the first half of it, my thought was that the parts I was enjoying the most were the selections I hadn’t heard before, e.g. the orchestral “arrival of the queen of Sheba” from Solomon (with some very sprightly woodwind interludes from The Symphony of Harmony and Invention) or “will the sun forget to streak” which sounds like it ought to be the ultimate operatic fraternity party anthem but is actually nice in a different, not-going-to-get-the-ensemble-arrested-for-public-indecency way; Connolly’s performance of it is one to lost in. Maybe it’s because the text is in English and thus I hear it differently than I would if it were Italian, but Handel’s setting of the words and Connolly’s take on how the lines should go seemed to mesh with one another and the orchestral parts perfectly – it’s one of those performances that is hard to take apart. (I find I have that reaction to her singing quite often. It resists my urge to take it to pieces, and just remains there being beautiful. I don’t mind. Puzzling, though.)
Not that I wasn’t enjoying the things that I had heard many times before – by the A section repeat of the first track, “sta nell’ircana” from Alcina, I was completely on board. But the developing sense I mentioned of particularly liking the things that were less familiar was overturned decisively by Connolly’s rendition of “scherza infida.” The tempo is slow, but both singer and ensemble know exactly what to do with the long phrases – you can hear every detail of the lute part for example (there’s a bit right at I think the transition to one of the later repeats that’s fantastic) and Connolly does some amazing things with dynamic contrast in the second half. I wish there was a recording of her singing the whole role.